In front of a packed courtroom Friday, Aug. 9, Justin Alan Foster pled guilty to 14 charges related to his December 5, 2017 assault on Dawson County Sheriff’s Office Sergeant Randy Harnkess. Superior Court Judge Katherine Gosselin sentenced Foster to 40 years, 12 of which were to be served in prison, the rest to be served on probabtion.
Foster faced 14 charges, including two counts of battery, three counts of hijacking a motor vehicle, aggravated assault, aggravated battery, aggravated assault with the intent to rob, aggravated assault against a peace officer, aggravated battery against a peace officer, obstruction, attempted removal of a weapon from a public official, robbery by force and aggravated assault with intent to murder.
After the plea was entered, sentencing began. The prosecution began by showing the security footage of the incident and calling Sgt. Harkness to the stand.
Harkness gave a tearful thank you to those who helped him and assisted his mother at the scene. He then addressed the feelings he had from the experience.
“I’m not mad. I don’t let anger control me,” Harkness explained. “It gets in your head and it gets in your heart, and I can’t do my job if I let that control me.”
He then tearfully handed a ten dollar bill to the defense attorney, telling Foster to get a pack of cigarettes, mirroring the ten dollars Harkness was giving Foster when he assaulted him.
The defense painted a picture of Foster as a kind and loving man, a good father, husband and son, who was, according to the defense attorney, “struggling mentally, and I believe, . . . struggling spiritually.” The court heard from Foster’s parents, wife, father-in-law, and family friends, who all described him as a peaceful man.
At one point, the defense attorney asked everyone in the court room that was present to support Mr. Foster to raise their hands. The vast majority of those in the packed courtroom did so.
According to the defense attorney, in the weeks prior to the incident, Foster had announced that he would no longer be working with his father and had left his family to travel around the Atlanta area. During his time on the road, he lived in his van, gave most of his belongings to the homeless, and tried cocaine for the first time.
Foster never denied any of the actions he was accused of. His defense attorney claimed that “not only is he guilty, but he is guilt-ridden.”
After both sides were given a chance to present their facts, and Foster was given a chance to address the court, Judge Gosselin handed down her verdict.
“Sentencing is one of the hardest things a judge has to do,” Gosselin said. “Mr. Step [the defense attorney]’s argument that the worst moment doesn’t define a person also applies to the sentence in this case. What defines you is how you live your life.”
Several wails erupted in the courtroom when Judge Gosselin read out her sentences, which totaled to 12 years in prison followed by 28 years of probation.
“Your family claims this was not you, well it was you, at least some aspect of you they hadn’t seen before, but it was definitely you. And I have to address that person who acted that way,” said Gosselin.
“You will not get to see your children grow up as much as you would like, but you will not be behind bars forever.”
“Not to minimize an assault upon any law enforcement officer, but this case was extremely egregious. Out of his kindness, Randy was simply to trying to help another when he was brutally attacked,” said Sheriff Jeff Johnson in a statement. “Although not justifiable, we can somewhat understand and accept that officers are often involved in physical altercations while making arrests. However, this was nothing more than an officer being viciously assaulted while helping another. This was disturbing.
“We are thankful for the Good Samaritans who came to the aid of Sergeant Harkness and who detained the suspect until law enforcement officers could arrive. Without their intervention, we could only speculate what may have happened.
“We are grateful that this event hasn’t changed Randy. He is still the same friendly, approachable public serving professional he has always been.”